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Currently displayed at the British Museum until April, the exhibition, Hajj: Journey to The Heart of Islam, describes the history of the pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam.

It is the first exhibition of its kind to be shown in any museum in the world. The monumental event displays priceless manuscripts and textiles from numerous countries, including the historic coverings that once hung over the Ka’bah and a small pouch of dust gathered from its floor. Accompanying the centuries old tradition is a catalogue that documents footsteps of pilgrims from all corners of the globe, across the centuries, and it vividly brings to life the profound spiritual significance of the sacred tradition that remains unchanged.

On display are fascinating photographs of the ritual through the years, but there are no photographs of the interior of the Ka’bah. The lead curator of the exhibition, Venetia Porter, an internationally recognised expert on the history and culture of Islam, stated: “…it is fair to say that at the heart of the exhibition there remains a mystery.”

Her co-curator, Qaisra Khan, who performed the Hajj for the first time last year, related that she found it an overwhelming experience, “surrounded by so many millions of devout people.” Neil MacGregor, Director, The British Museum, described the Hajj as “the high point of the intersection between theology and logistics.”

There are many travel accounts documented by well known people including the explorer Richard Burton and Lady Evelyn Cobbold, the first British Muslim woman to make the pilgrimage in 1933; but perhaps the most moving chronicle is that of a 10-year-old English girl, who made the journey with her family in 2006 and described it as “such a simple object structurally, yet so majestic and awe inspiring.”

– Marjorie Husain
The writer is one of Pakistan’s leading art critics.


First published in the Adbuzzzz section of the DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 11, 2012.